Archive for the ‘ Training ’ Category

World Peace

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

Most readers will be aware there are political problems in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has fallen out with Qatar and has convinced four other members of the GCC to impose sanctions on Qatar. And I think I know the reason why and how to solve the problem. It all has to do with swimming.

Let me explain – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a regional political organisation comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). You see, after a year in a boutique slum hotel in Saudi Arabia, I know all about the GCC. Every year the pinnacle of GCC unity is expressed in an annual swimming championship. Other sports pale in comparison. At the annual GCC Swimming Championships honour is at stake, big time. Saudi Swimming had a prince member of the royal family in charge and employed a New Zealand CEO in an effort to win the championship. Sadly it has never worked.

Year after year Kuwait wins the championships, followed closely by Qatar, then the UAE, then Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Oman usually trails the field. I learned early in my stay that a country like Saudi Arabia is not at all happy with fifth place. The biggest country, the leader of the Arab world finds it difficult to accept being beaten by minions like Qatar and Bahrain. Millions of oil dollars are spent sending swimmers around the world, employing foreign coaches and paying swimmers a living allowance. And it has never worked. Championships come and go and Saudi Arabia is fifth again.

Vision may be the problem. The CEO has bought himself the most massive American SUV. I swear his wife must have prepared a cushion with embroidered kiwis to lift him above the steering wheel.

Unable to beat their GCC partners in the pool, I am convinced, the Saudi authorities decided to stop the competition. Someone filed a complaint with FINA about Kuwait. The accusation was that Kuwait was winning because they were importing foreign swimmers. FINA agreed and Kuwait was banished from the championships. Saudi Arabia was now up to fourth place. One more place and a bronze medal would be theirs.

So now you know why Qatar has been expelled from the GCC. After years in the wilderness, in the 2017 GCC Swimming Championships, Qatar will not be able to compete and Saudi Arabia will be the third placed nation. Saudi Arabia is edging up the table. Honour is being restored.

It seemed important to convey this information to world leaders. Perhaps they could pressure Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain swimmers to swim slowly and let Saudi Arabia win. Saudi Arabia could have its victory without the disruption to travel and commerce caused by the current ban.

I took my plan to 10 Downing Street. Unfortunately Theresa May was out at the Berlitz School learning Irish. I didn’t have much luck in Washington DC either. Rex Tillerson was too busy removing dandruff from Donald Trump’s suit and Kelly Ann Conway was receiving a fair and honest award from Fox News. I did see the Education Secretary, Nancy de Vos, who said she was pleased that global warming was not affecting the life cycle of glaciers in Kuwait.

Normal world leaders in France and Germany did seem taken with my plan. Sufficiently so that through their diplomatic efforts I believe Saudi Arabia could well win the 2017 GCC Swimming Championships. And the world will be at peace again.  

Post Script – GCC Championship results are a sad reflection on the standard of swimming in the area. It is terrible that Saudi Arabia is unable to win a competition where the men’s races (there are no women) are won in very slow times. For example in 2016:

800 Free 8:52.80, 100 Free 52.78, 200 Fly 2:13.43, 400 Free 4:14.38, 1500 Free 17:14.94, 100 Breast 1:07.20, 200 Back 2:09.60, 50 Fly 24.90.    


Swimming Without Knowledge Is Blind

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

For three years I studied Political Science and Business Administration at Victoria University in Wellington. An interesting feature of the Business Administration course was the question of how much product knowledge was needed to manage a corporation. Would the boss of Boeing be a better boss if he had a pilot’s license? Did the CEO of the Blue Star Shipping Line need a deep sea captain’s ticket? How much mechanical engineering knowledge was required to manage Ford Motor Company?

My tutors seemed to think that there was no need for a CEO to have the detailed knowledge of a specialist operator. However, they argued, some specialist knowledge was necessary. Effective management required market and customer knowledge and some familiarity with the applicable technology; sufficient certainly to understand the organisation’s specialists. There was no need for the CEO of Boeing to pilot the company’s new aircraft but he did need to understand the information test pilots provided.      

Later experience partially confirmed that view. For several years I was the CEO of New Zealand’s largest exporter of animal by-products. I knew a fair amount about hides, skins, tallow and meat and bone meal. However to a huge extent I relied on product experts. As long as I knew enough to understand their advice we could make good collective decisions.

Since those days I have increasingly changed my opinion. Academically “some specialist knowledge” might be viewed as enough but the best decisions require more than that. Successful management involves having a much deeper understanding of the product; not to the level of a specialist perhaps but certainly a shared understanding, a similar feel for the product, a common language.

And so what does all this have to do with swimming? Well, I have experienced two organisations recently, The Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation and Swimming New Zealand. Both suffer because their CEOs, in my opinion, have insufficient specialist knowledge. In both cases, the problem is made worse by having no one in either organisation capable of providing good technical advice.

Let’s deal with Saudi Arabia first. The CEO there is a New Zealander who prior to Saudi Arabia served as a swimming administrator in New Zealand. Administration is one thing, a deep and abiding understanding of what makes a champion swimmer is something altogether different. In Saudi Arabia the lack of technical knowledge is fatal because the organisation has no specialists. Some foreigners with little technical knowledge are leading a group of Saudis who have no specialist knowledge. The blind leading the blind; at least that’s the impression. And it results in bad decisions. For example huge resources are put into learn to swim on the assumption that if a boy (there are no girls) is taught to swim well he will be better able to achieve elite success. That, of course is nonsense. Swimmers coming from a good learn to swim program will be better prepared for competitive training but if their training is poor they will fail. The problem in Saudi Arabia is that the training senior swimmers receive is rubbish. Around the world good coaches provide a balanced program. That means the aerobic content should occupy 40% of the time, anaerobic content 20% of the time and speed training 40% of the time. The programs I studied in Saudi Arabia provided aerobic training 4% of the time, anaerobic training 38% of the time and speed training 58% of the time.

Anyone providing swimming training in a 4/38/58 ratio will never win a big swimming race, ever. The Saudi Arabian Government spends millions of Riyal sending swimmers all over the world in the hope that exposing them to international competition will lift the standard of the nation’s swimming. But it is wasted money when the swimmers come home and swim in a 96% speed only program. And the problem will not go away. No one in the organization knows there is a problem, let alone possesses the knowledge required to fix it.   

And Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) is no better. There are or were three individuals in SNZ who have an understanding of elite swimming; Clive Power, Gary Hurring and Donna Bouzaid. And SNZ sacked two of them and the third has retired. At the top that has left SNZ with a CEO whose experience on their website is described as “a former New Zealand water polo representative and a titleholder in national surf lifesaving and age group swimming.” None of that is elite swimming. However his experience is probably marginally sufficient for a CEO if he had access to and was getting top flight elite swimming advice. But, in my opinion, the CEO of SNZ is not receiving advice of that calibre. The current Head Coach is an American whose experience in the United States was principally as an age group, local swim club coach. I have a pilot’s license that makes me well able to fly my Cessna Arrow between Auckland and Wellington. I am not however equipped to get anyone to London in an A380 wide body jet.

In my opinion the interests of elite New Zealand swimmers are not being properly managed because no one in the organisation understands their world; no one has the required specialist knowledge. And because of that the decision making process is unsound and the conclusions flawed. And if proof is required just look at the swimming medals won in 2000 in Sydney, in 2004 in Athens, in 2008 in Beijing, in 2012 in London and in 2016 in Rio – oh that’s right, there were none. Five Olympics and 15 million tax payer dollars and no result – something must be wrong. And in my opinion, the blind leading the blind, is a fair conclusion.

On that subject it is relevant to ask, what has happened to the coaching organisation’s initiative to intervene on behalf of Gary Hurring and Donna Bouzaid? There was a lot of noise and bluster when their sackings were announced. Opinions were called for and meetings were held. But since then nothing. I predicted at the time that the coaches association did not have the courage to force real change. Sadly, really sadly, that appears to be the case.   


Saudi Arabia and Donald Trump

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Donald Trump has just left Washington to visit Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are reported to be preparing a red carpet reception. I can believe that. The Saudis and Trump are well suited to each other; in a macabre, terrible sort of way.

Trump will arrive at Riyadh Airport. The Saudis have just built a new terminal building. Like many Saudi public buildings the terminal is grand but austere. In Riyadh there is none of the liquor and cigars gloss of Dubai and Doha. The duty free reminds me of the sparse supermarkets I visited in the Soviet era USSR.

But Trump won’t mind that. He does not drink alcohol and he will not be using the public terminal. In Riyadh they have a huge glass terminal exclusively for private aviation. Trump’s 747 will park alongside a dozen other privately owned 747s. Trump will love it – two families with king complexes; massaging each other’s egos.

But the similarities do not end there. When I lived in Saudi Arabia I was just staggered by the injustice of their society; injustice that was reflected in the administration of swimming. Injustice made worse by the fact that the CEO of swimming was a New Zealander who either could not or did not want to do anything about it.

Let me give you some examples.

The treatment of foreign nationals amounts to racial apartheid. Short term western imports like me are fine. But long term residents live an impossibly segregated life. I know of Egyptian and Syrian families who have lived in Saudi Arabia for twenty years and, because they are not Saudi born, are forbidden from opening a bank account, from purchasing a house and even from using the local public swimming pool.

Just imagine if the New Zealand government announced that Asian immigrants, because of their race, were not allowed to swim in the Henderson, West Wave Pool. Just think of the chaos that would follow Maori being banned from the Auckland, Newmarket Pool. And yet the Saudi government does the equivalent of that all the time and the New Zealand CEO told me he would not do anything about it. With Trump’s attitude to aliens I suspect he will see the Saudi example as a goal for his administration to aspire. After all when so many Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, why should they swim with real Americans?

And then of course there is the well-known position of women. That amounts to apartheid as well. There are different security queues in the airport for men and women, different standards of dress, different sections of every café and restaurant and different universities. Women are forbidden from using public pools or swimming in the sea, forbidden from driving cars, forbidden from opening a bank account without the approval of a male relative, forbidden from travel without a male chaperone, punished for talking to male strangers, forbidden from taking part in competitive sport and quite unbelievably from even praying in the same room as men – as though God cares.

In matters of gender Trump and the Saudis will not get along. I cannot imagine any Saudi royal supporting Trump’s two most famous quotes “I did try and fuck her. She was married” and, “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” But although their attitude to women is very different, Trump and the Saudis end up in a similar place. For both of them women are items of property, devoid of rights and stripped of independence.

Although gender equality is a major issue in Saudi Arabian swimming nothing is being done to address the problem. In this world there are those who tackle the big issues with courage and without pause for their own safety. And then there are others who ignore the injustice and cower from conflict. I will leave you to guess which qualities have ruled Saudi Swimming in recent years.

There is always an excuse for doing nothing. I recall the Vanguard initiative being defeated in New Zealand swimming. A pivotal meeting was held in Wellington. It was a “Munich” moment requiring nerve and courage. Sadly it got neither. Today swimming in New Zealand is still suffering as a consequence of that failure and the 2012 constitution it spawned. That inability to lead hurt New Zealand swimming and does not appear capable of solving the two big issues of swimming in Saudi Arabia either.

But back to Trump and the Saudis; probably the most frightening effect of the Trump visit will be the confirmation, in Trumps mind, of the way rulers are supposed to be treated. I have been in Riyadh when the streets for miles around have been closed in preparation for the King’s transit. I have seen his convoy of twenty cars and an ambulance speed through the city. I have witnessed the subservient behavior of citizens to members of the royal family and I have seen the hectares of walled-off palaces in Riyadh and Jeddah.

We know Trump is like a little boy. He will want some of that. He will want CNN to show the servitude demanded of the press in Saudi Arabia where criticism of the government and royal family “are not generally tolerated. Self-censorship is pervasive.”

Fortunately for our world Trump is not going to get what he wants. Sadly for women and foreigners living in Saudi Arabia I suspect they are not either.      


Attitude Not Altitude

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

The phrase “attitude not altitude” was first used by Arthur Lydiard. He was unconvinced about the value of short term trips to altitude. Of course he accepted that athletes who live at high altitude or athletes who spend months or even years in high altitude camps will benefit. But Arthur is right, there is no evidence to support the idea that two or three weeks at a high altitude resort three months before a major competition will have any performance benefits.

But in spite of that, Jerry Olszewski, the American Age Group Coach, who is now Swimming New Zealand’s National Coach has convinced the Board of Swimming New Zealand to fund a high altitude training camp in Jerry’s home state, Arizona. The team will be there for two weeks and will then compete in the Mission Viejo Swim meet in California. Three months later this high altitude honed group will represent the Board of Swimming New Zealand in the World Swimming Championships.

What a terrible joke this has become. It is the sort of waste we see in third world Federations where appearance has more value than substance. Saudi Arabia is a classic example of the malaise. The country has three of the world’s best swimming pools and yet happily wastes hundreds of thousands of oil dollars sending athletes to training camps in Egypt, or Australia or New Zealand. Why?   

Well the reason is simple. For third world administrators, and that’s what they are in Saudi Arabia and New Zealand, looking and sounding good is what is important. Just think how much better Swimming New Zealand’s report to Peter Miskimmin sounds describing an Arizona high altitude camp compared to three week’s training at the Millennium Institute; Cotterill looks better and Cotterill sounds more important. In my opinion the decisions of the CEO of Saudi Arabian Swimming and the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand suffer from the same cult of ego.

Two weeks at high altitude in Arizona will be of no benefit. Well that’s not quite true. Jerry gets a paid two week trip back to his home state. So that’s good.

But for the New Zealand swimmers, on their way to Arizona, the science of swimming seems to be conclusive. In a defining study on the subject Dr A Baker from California and Dr W Hopkins from Otago University say;     

“The best duration of stay at altitude is uncertain, but the concentration of blood erythropoietin rises in the first day at an altitude.  After two weeks it is still high, but declining.  Conclusion: three or four weeks is long enough for one stay. 

We expect the benefits to begin to wane by the end of the second month after altitude exposure, and to have disappeared completely after three or four months.”

These findings plus the accepted principle that acclimatizing to high altitude can take three to six weeks conclusively tell us that a plan to spend two weeks in Arizona followed by three months back at sea level will have no effect on the performance of the New Zealand team in the Budapest World Championships. The Board of Swimming New Zealand will have wasted another $100,000.

This farce is not a problem caused by New Zealand’s local coaches or by New Zealand’s swimmers. If the results reflect bad decisions like the one to travel to Arizona, the buck for New Zealand’s poor performance stops at Cotterill and his Board. They made the decision to employ an Arizona age group coach and they accepted the recommendation to swan off to a high altitude camp in the United States. It is about time responsibility for the problems being experienced in swimming were accepted by the guilty.

In the past coaches have been made redundant and swimmers have been ostracised. Recently Gary and Donn lost their jobs. There was not enough money to pay them but plenty to spend on a fool’s errand up a mountain in the United States. In 2012 the Board of Swimming New Zealand was vested with huge powers. The buck stops with them. They are responsible. And if the results of this big spend-up are as negative as I expect, then decency demands that they move aside. Hopefully their replacements will know better than to spend money on this sort of folly.

I imagine some of you are thinking, “There he goes again; another way over the top suggestion.” But is it really? These are important decisions. They have cost the sport millions and two generations of swimmers have lost their careers. They are decisions that matter. Remember when Swimming New Zealand carted the country’s swimmers around every Mediterranean resort on a training trip before the London Olympic Games. That was a waste similar to this one. But those responsible escaped all censure. Only when the Board accept and acknowledge fault will things improve. So no, I do not think expecting the Board to stand down is way over the top at all.       

But there is a glimmer of hope. I was at the Millennium Pool this week. I was reading my phone when someone said, “Hello David. How are you?” I looked up to see Lauren Boyle. She said she had not gone to Arizona and was instead recovering from injury and preparing at the Millennium Pool. All I could think was, “What a sensible decision.”

I hope Lauren swims well in Budapest. Primarily because she is a class swimmer and a class person. But also because her decision to stay in Auckland, surrounded by her family and friends is the way champions do things. You see Lauren Boyle does not suffer from the slightest personality of ego. She is well grounded and has been hugely successful as a result. The Board of Swimming New Zealand would do well to learn from her example.

But for this Board it is too late. After Budapest they should step aside and let those as grounded as Boyle assume responsibility for the organization.      

Saudi Arabia On First-Aid

Monday, March 27th, 2017

I was fortunate enough to go to school in New Zealand and the United States. I have worked in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Virgin Islands, the United States and Saudi Arabia. The company that transferred me to the United Kingdom took time to instruct me on a phenomenon called “cultural shock”. Even in a society as familiar as the United Kingdom, I was told, I would pass through four stages as I adjusted to my new environment.

There would be a “honeymoon” phase during which, the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light. After about three months I would enter the “negotiation” stage where differences between the old and new culture would give way to unpleasant feelings of frustration as I experienced unfavorable events that may be perceived as strange to my cultural attitudes. After about seven months, in the “adjustment” period, I would become accustomed to the new culture and develop coping routines. I would know what to expect. And finally after ten months, in the “adaptation” phase, I would be able to participate comfortably in the host culture.

The UK was so familiar, so similar to New Zealand that I moved seamlessly through these stages. I began to think that the perils of cultural shock were largely mumble-jumble academic sociology. A year coaching in Saudi Arabia has corrected that naïve view. After ten months I can relate absolutely with the process of honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and adaptation.        

My Saudi experience means I know more about the Middle East than when I lived in New Zealand. Mind you that would not be difficult. Before I went to Saudi Arabia my knowledge of this part of the world was poor. Dubai was a flash airport I stopped at on the way to London. Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain were names on a screen as I cruised at 35,000 feet above them. A year does not make me an expert on the Middle East but I do know a little more.

Of course there are a dozen cultural experiences I could discuss – everything from the lack women’s rights, to the harsh judicial process, to the obscene wealth of the Saudi royal family, to the discomfort of sitting on the floor to eat and the awkwardness of using my hands to tear apart a full sheep carcass. But instead I want to discuss a psychological difference I discovered in Saudi: a difference that sometimes caused confusion and on one occasion resulted in one of my funnier Saudi memories.

I have mentioned before the quality of the swimmers I coached in Jeddah. I have also mentioned that three of them were refugees from war ravaged Syria. Fouad is a high school student. Eyad is coming to New Zealand for the Open Nationals and is half way through a marine engineering degree. Yamen is about to graduate as a Doctor of Dentistry.

It is Yamen I want to discuss. He captures so well the psychology I found puzzling. Among the Arab people I met, and Yamen in particular, there seems to be a tremendous wish to please. There is a cultural respect for age that I was not used to. In New Zealand you would call the quality I found in Yamen – “being well brought up”. He is polite, concerned, gentle, educated, hardworking and successful. He showed sincere concern for my wellbeing and health. He ordered the hotel to service my room, he administered IV antibiotics for my infected foot and he bought fruit for a coach he was sure was not eating properly. In fact he was so caring I occasionally had to demand the right to carry my own suitcase or get my own supplies from the local shop.

Yamen asked me if he could do the Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation life-guard course. I did think it was odd that a Doctor of Dentistry would want a life-guard certificate. Yamen explained that he had an academic interest in the subject – and so I signed him up. In Saudi Arabia life-guard courses are taught by a South African ex-swimmer employed by the Federation. He may be a first class instructor, I wouldn’t know, but his social skills are in need of serious attention. This guy is no Nelson Mandela. In New Zealand he would be told to piss off after the first morning. But Yamen patiently showed no concern at the Yarpie’s brutal behaviour. Yamen complained to me but sat through the South African’s lessons politely smiling.

But the pinnacle of irony came when it was time to do the first aid portion of the lifeguard course. Now remember the South African was teaching Yamen alone. Here is how Yamen described the first aid portion of his dentistry course to me.

“I have two CPR and first aid qualifications. The first one is a main subject, studied for a semester (4 months) of two classes each week. And I passed with A+. It was very intensive and detailed and included all parts of trauma, poisoning, burning, suffocating and pregnancy emergencies.  We have a first aid professor. The second one is a normal practicing certificate.  It takes one day and is mandatory for any doctor to do before starting work.  In the end we get a CPR and first aid certificate valid for two years.”

I would have thought the instructor, knowing Yamen’s academic training, might have asked about Yamen’s first aid background. But not this guy. I sat and listened for two days while the South African swimmer lectured Yamen about first aid and CPR. What made it worse was the condescending tone of superiority that characterised everything he said. I had the uncomfortable feeling the South African was back lecturing a pre-1994 native in his homeland. I have a private pilot’s license but I would not tell the captain of an A380 how to fly.  

But through it all Yamen remained calm and respectful. At one stage he even expressed concern to me that one of the first aid instructions was wrong. “Tell him,” I said.

“Oh, no,” said Yamen. “That would be rude.”

I said, “Okay then – but promise me this. If I pass out beside the pool can you administer first aid? Keep me away from your instructor.”

Yamen agreed. The whole episode was culturally revealing and ironically hilarious.